UMass Mailbag: Nov. 16

Staff Writer
Published: 11/16/2018 11:38:35 AM

I’m back in the question answering mood after a few weeks off from the mailbag. With the three major sports at UMass in full swing, there’s plenty for us to discuss and digest.

We begin with football as the Minutemen head into their final game of the season at Georgia on Saturday. There were two questions about players that I wanted to address, although one answer will be significantly longer than the other.

Q: The first player we’re talking about is Xavier Steele. John Duffy tweeted in and asked why we haven’t seen more of the sophomore linebacker this season. 

A: As John astutely pointed out in his tweet to me, Steele had two pretty good games to begin the season. He started as Tyris Lebeau’s backup at outside linebacker with Jarell Addo suspended and performed well in his snaps on the field. He got hurt against Boston College and was in street clothes the next two weeks, but he hasn’t played since that game against the Eagles.

It is unclear if he is still injured or if the coaches wanted him to grow a bit more physically to finish his conversion to linebacker from defensive back so they’re redshirting him. Either way, Steele is someone who will need to step up for UMass defensively next year after it loses most of the heart and soul of the defense.

Q: It didn’t take long during the BYU game for Jim Pierotti to chime in about Jordan Fredericks and his role. Jim’s question was simply if Whipple has used Fredericks enough this season given what we’ve seen since the bye week.

A: If he had stayed healthy in training camp, I’m convinced Fredericks would have been the No. 2 running back to start the season. He provides everything UMass needs from a running back in Mark Whipple’s offense – hard-nosed physical runner, underrated speed and good pass blocking. The injury limited him for the first half of the season, but his progress is a major reason Bilal Ally stopped getting carries and decided to transfer. 

Now as for whether or not he’s getting enough touches, it’s really hard to say. Let’s not forget that Marquis Young is a pretty good running back and ranks fifth nationally in all-purpose yards. It’s hard to take the senior off the field when he’s such a valuable weapon for the offense. Ross Comis playing quarterback has also hurt Fredericks because it has taken some of his carries away from him. Comis is more likely to keep it on run-pass options than Andrew Ford was, and Whipple can call designed quarterback runs more often when he wants to run the ball. 

Q: We’ll move onto my only hockey question from the mailbag, which deals with some advanced metrics. I’ll just quote Squirts directly on this question: “How concerned should we be that UMass appears to have a high PDO and low Corsi For percent?”

A: Let’s be clear, UMass is finding ways to win hockey games, which is never an issue. No statistic or metric can fully explain a team that can win in multiple different ways. I’ll break down the question into two parts, one dealing with the PDO and the other Corsi For percent.

I understand why a high PDO is a cause for concern, but that mark is also a statement about how well UMass in playing to Greg Carvel’s system. The Minutemen don’t want to throw pucks at the net for no reason, so for them to have success, they’re going to have to score on a higher percentage of their shots than most teams. On the other side, the Minutemen will allow plenty of shots from non-dangerous areas, which can help pad the save percentage. For this team and its style of play, the high PDO isn’t an issue but a sign of how successful UMass has been.

The Minutemen’s low Corsi For percentage is a bit concerning, only in the sense that they haven’t been controlling the offensive zone 5-on-5 as well as Carvel would prefer. Especially this past weekend against Providence, UMass won because it took advantage of every chance it had and got some spectacular goaltending from Matt Murray. The Minutemen need to be better at even strength as the season progresses, but I’m not too concerned about their low Corsi numbers yet.

Q: Since Signing Week is still going on, I want to answer a question several of you asked me over the past few weeks. How can UMass sign more players to scholarships than it has scholarships available?

A: There were some people who correctly pointed out that UMass can oversign and then redistribute the scholarships as necessary since their one-year scholarships. The other question to keep in mind is if Matt McCall has an understanding that certain players will transfer at the end of the season and free up scholarships. The two obvious names who fit into that category are Unique McLean and Khalea Turner-Morris. McLean is going to graduate in the spring from all indications, which means he could transfer out and play two years somewhere else without having to sit out. That makes the most sense as to how the Minutemen will free up a third scholarship.

However, we also need to keep in mind a different outcome that McCall must also prepare for – what if Luwane Pipkins goes pro after this season? Although he would have another year left, if he can lead UMass to the NCAA Tournament this year, I could see Pipkins bolting for the NBA, G-League or overseas so he can get paid. McCall is smart enough that he’s begun thinking about that scenario and has a plan in place if his superstar decides to forgo his senior year.

Q: Our final question comes from Greg Leger, who asked about my impressions of the new UMass players.

A: I’ll begin by saying I haven’t seen enough of Samba Diallo or Kieran Hayward to give my impression of them. They’ve both shown brilliant glances of their potential, but I need to say more before I can give actual opinions about them.

But I’ve been largely impressed with the other three transfers and two freshmen. I think Sy Chatman has shown incredible poise as Rashaan Holloway’s backup and shown everyone why McCall has been so high on him. He always seems to be in the right position and he can extend the offense in a way Holloway just can’t. Tre Wood has really taken a giant step in his progression and someone I think McCall is trusting more and more as the backup point guard behind Pipkins.

Obviously Curtis Cobb and Jonathan Laurent have worked seamlessly into the Minutemen’s starting five and given them the lift they needed. Laurent is a versatile four who is dangerous when he plays within himself. Cobb is the scorer UMass needed to complement Pipkins and Carl Pierre with his ability to create his own shot and be aggressive at attacking the rim. And then there’s Keon Clergeot, whose unbridled energy is such a lift to the Minutemen, even if he takes poor shots and gets overly excited at times on defense. 

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